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Plans for iconic Safari Rally in top gear amid Covid-19 chaos

Wednesday May 13 2020

Former Sports Principal Secretary Kirimi Kaberia (left) and World Rally Championship (WRC) Safari Rally Project chief executive Phineas Kimathi (right) sign a deal with World Rally Championship Promoter Oliver Ciesla in Paris on June 21, 2018. PHOTO | POOL |

Former Sports Principal Secretary Kirimi Kaberia (left) and World Rally Championship (WRC) Safari Rally Project chief executive Phineas Kimathi (right) sign a deal with World Rally Championship Promoter Oliver Ciesla in Paris on June 21, 2018. PHOTO | POOL |  

PETER NJENGA
By PETER NJENGA
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Despite the disruption caused by the novel Covid-19 pandemic in the world of sport, the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) included, preparations for the 2020 Safari Rally are in full steam.

The rally scheduled for July 16-19 will be returning to the WRC series after an 18-year hiatus.

Whereas the government is scheduled to give an update on the status of the Safari Rally this Friday amid the coronavirus lockdown, event organisers will start receiving competitors’ entries on Saturday. Media accreditation for local journalists opens on May 18.

The registration drive will last for a month to avoid a last-minute rush. Foreign journalists, including those in Africa, will be handled by the International Motorsport Federation (FIA).

The WRC has suffered irreparably following the outbreak of the virus. Only three events - Monte Carlo, Sweden and Mexico rallies- were held as scheduled.

Argentina, Portugal and Italy rounds have been put on hold. Organisers and the FIA are monitoring the unfolding events of the pandemic before announcing new dates.

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Organisers of the Rally Finland said they are considering a September date while Rally New Zealand may not be held at all after the government said it does not see the possibility of opening its borders in the near future.

Rally Chile was cancelled last year following political upheavals in that country. This leaves the Safari Rally as the first destination of the championship and, therefore, an important assignment by the WRC Safari Rally team and the government as the principal sponsor of the championship.

Ministry of Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed and Principal Secretary Joe Okudo have marshalled resources and built synergy with other ministries to ensure Kenya is not caught flat-footed.

Besides the brief on the Safari Rally status on Friday, the FIA and its commercial rights holder, the WRC Promoter will also update the world concerning the movement of the Safari Rally kit from Mexico to the port of Mombasa.

The equipment in 65 containers will be transported from Mombasa to Suswa by the Standard Gauge Railway train which officially received its first cargo train direct from Kenya Ports Authority harbour last weekend.

The equipment will then be transported by road to the Kenya Wildlife Service Training Institute in Naivasha. The town will host the Service Park and also serve as the nerve centre for the Safari Rally.

Civil engineering work is complete and construction of structures to accommodate factory and private teams, the International Broadcasting Centre and the Main Press Centre will follow.

While it is not a secret that local sports federations do not attach importance to the media, the WRC Safari Rally will be a game-changer on how media operations will be conducted in Kenya.

New standards, if replicated in all sporting disciplines, will, for the good of sport, usher in a new generation of world-class operations beneficial to the public, sportspeople and also sponsors.

The FIA rates media operations highly alongside competitors, sponsors and the people who work for long hours to marshal the route and ensure the safety of spectators and drivers alike.

The FIA accreditation process beats similar exercises in other local and international competitions, underpinning the distance Kenyans must cover to meet international standards.

For example, drawings and dimensions for the Main Press Centre design measuring 100x45 feet includes a press room, photographers’ quarters, television booths, manufacturers’ teams' lounge and resting areas.

This will be independent of the WRC Promoter media team of about 50 crew which will film and send material to London for editing before being streamed live by WRC+ TV and onto linear TV stations and official social media platforms across the globe.

Action will be juxtapositioned with images from other parts of Kenya shot a week leading to the July 16 start outside the iconic Kenyatta International Convention Centre.

The WRC Promoter managing director Oliver Ciesla values the free advertising for Kenya as a tourism destination at Sh4.5 billion, underlining the commercial value of the Safari.

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